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Massage Today
July, 2005, Vol. 05, Issue 07

Healing Comes From Within

By Bruce Baltz

As massage therapists, our role is to initiate the natural healing process that lives within each one of us. But due to life's circumstances, our bodies are not always our best friends. We are trained at a very young age to hold in emotions and not express our feelings.

As we get older most of us don't even recognize the turmoil that we have created inside our own bodies. As adults we have become quite proficient at masking our feelings to the point that it makes our day-to-day lives seem quite healthy; however, if we look at our lives a little closer we will find that a great deal of our imbalances is based on our reactions to fear. Most of us are taught that there will be consequences if we don't act a certain way or live up to certain expectations. So, as you can see, a pattern develops that does not necessarily work to our advantage.

First, we need to acknowledge that we are carrying emotional baggage that can be the root cause of many of our physical imbalances. We then have to look at the systems of the body and how they are affected unconsciously. Studies have shown that the autonomic nervous system holds the key to many of our physical discomforts and problems. Stress and fear are two of the most notable causes that directly correlate to the dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, better known as dysautonomia.

The chain of communication starting with the hypothalamus communicates with the pituitary gland and then the adrenal gland. These three glands produce many of the hormones that we need to keep the body in balance. But stress and fear tend to overload our systems to the point of losing touch with our overall well-being.

The autonomic nervous system is broken into three parts: sympathetic (flight or fight), parasympathetic (rest and digest) and the enteric brain (digestive brain). Dr. Paul Canali of the Evolutionary Healing Center in South Florida has been a pioneer in the search for therapies that positively affect the autonomic nervous system. According to Dr. Canali, "The autonomic nervous system was always thought to be just that - automatic, motor-like, reflex-like, in neutral. It doesn't matter if a car suddenly cuts you off on the freeway or your boss tells you you're fired, your autonomic system reacts the same way. Muscles contract, blood pressure goes up, digestion stops, your heart races, these are but a few of the many reactions activated in the body's autonomic nervous system survival mode. The good news is that the autonomic nervous system also has a built-in healing network that can override years of painful stress and trauma.

"This part of the system allows for the deepest of human emotion, feeling of safety, love, and hope to be activated. These are what I call autonomic afferents, and they can receive information by specific sensory stimulation to free the nervous system that is stuck in a desperate survival mode. As much as 85 percent of modern disease may be due to the stress of being stuck in autonomic survival mode."

One of the most important steps in the healing process is to have our bodies recognize that there is a problem in the way our autonomic nervous system function. One of the ways to accomplish this is to bring attention to the system, which is already overloaded. Bringing awareness into different areas of our body can do this by touch.

The work can be done through contact to cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral regions of the spine and their surrounding tissues. Dr. Canali is the developer of the Enteric Brain Technique; he has also found that working with specific visceral stimulation with cognitive support will affect the enteric brain portion of the autonomic nervous system. The enteric brain is literally our second body brain. It controls and produces dozens of healing chemicals. Ninety-five percent of the body's serotonin, the anti-depression/ecstasy molecule is stored here.

According to Dr. Canali, "The enteric brain is the gateway to the parasympatic system's most influential nerve - the vagus nerve - which, when given the proper support, can send a powerful message to the brain; that is, to slow down, rest, digest and most importantly to heal."

Dr. Canali and I are experimenting with the use of temperature with both hot and cold stonework and a massage table that has a heated water bladder instead of a foam pad* to see what the effects may be on the autonomic nervous system. One of the things the autonomic nervous system controls is body temperature; vasoconstriction or vasodilatation of blood vessels does this. Interestingly, this same reaction is part of the fear or stress response. When the nervous system senses danger, it contracts the surface blood vessels and muscles, and shunts the blood to the deeper more powerful survival muscles. Unfortunately, we can become stuck in this contracted survival mode. The use of hot and cold therapy seems to be one of the ways to turn off this survival reflex. Dr. Canali and I believe in the healing powers of hydrotherapy and are very optimistic on the direct correlation temperature will have on the systems in the body.

Lets look at a common scenario: A client comes in with an acute injury and after a duration of time, it will become chronic. Depending on the response your client has, the treatment, and what the client is willing to do to help him/herself, this chronic stage could turn into adaptation. When we adapt to a condition, our body compensates for imbalances. At this time, we become our worst enemy. Our internal systems start to change; our physical function is affected, and pain is the most likely outcome.

One of the last phases of adaptation is disease, which often results in depression and frustration. It's much easier to work within this framework sooner rather than later. We as human beings have to take responsibility for our internal well-being and recognize our body's natural healing powers. We are looking to open the communications system that exists within us so that it will better serve us in order to maintain optimal health. Over-stimulation on almost every level means that our body no longer has that "rest to digest" stage. The stress from our everyday lives, (jobs, society, relationships) all contribute to this, overloading our systems, which cause imbalance and disease.

In order to be of greater benefit to our clients, our approach must be multidimensional. The physical bodywork is only one piece of the puzzle. When we look at the physical, there is also a nutritional component that needs to be addressed. Without the proper nutrients, our bodies will not be able to produce the essential chemical reactions that are necessary to maintain optimal function. Then there is the emotional/spiritual side. There are as many ways of tapping into this realm as our physical modalities for the body. It is imperative that whatever modality is utilized, the client must also resonate with it. Doctors and therapists must have the proper training and education to back up their protocol of treatments.

As massage therapists, we have the ability to initiate communication with the autonomic nervous system in profound ways. First, we must gain the trust of our clients on an emotional and physical level. Once this is done, our bodies will do the rest.

*The Mermaid table, produced by Golden Ratio.


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